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One of the first technological decisions we made in Poderopedia, a project by Poderomedia Foundation that aims to promote greater transparency in Chile by mapping and visualizing the relationships among the country’s elite, was to adopt semantic technologies to store and query data.

These technologies allow us to represent a diverse set of relations between entities (people, companies, organizations) in a flexible way. The goal is to identify and express relations of power and influence of people and organizations. While we’re focused on Chilean political, civic and business leaders, this vocabulary can be used in other contexts with minor or no modifications at all.

We decided to use OWL (Web Ontology Language) as the basis of our work to define our vocabulary, because it provides us the semantic richness and extensibility we needed for our goals. We also based our work on two main vocabularies: Friend-of-a-friend (FOAF) to express information about people, organizations, etc. and BIO, an extension of FOAF focused on biographical information.

Starting from those vocabularies, we extended them to incorporate what we called “Connections,” that is, relations between people, companies, organizations and news, with some context — we added many new classes and subclasses of connections. This may sound trivial, but it involved a lot of debate and the hard work of our entire team before we could show it to others — with the hope that it could be a small contribution to the open-source community.

Another requirement we found is that every connection we create must be supported by one or more sources: These sources may be a URL to a newspaper article, a PDF version of an official document, or any other reference that can show where the information came from. In this way, we can make responsible assertions based on existing information and maintain the accountability and provenance of our data.

Say it with Linked Data

With our “Ontology,” for example, we can express simple connections, such as a person “A” was a strategic adviser to “B” presidential candidate; meanwhile “A” was friends with “C” person, who was a strategic adviser to “D” presidential candidate. After the presidential election, “A” and “C” created a company that lobbies in Congress for “F” private company, which is owned by “G” person, whose brother is elected Senator “E.”

(I must emphasize that this is just an example for the purpose of this exercise and that any resemblance to reality is purely coincidental.)

Open and available

Our Ontology is open and available for everybody to use. You can obtain a copy, comment, and raise questions here on Github. We would appreciate good questions, comments and criticism, so we can improve this vocabulary to make it useful for other people in the world, as it’s been useful for us.

We can also always use a friendly hand. So if you want more information or you’re interested in getting involved with Poderopedia, or you want to talk about launching a chapter of Poderopedia in your country or simply want to say hi, please contact us at info (at) poderopedia.com, follow us on Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, fork us on Github, or join our Community Discussion Group.